(34), Melbourne Beach
CEO/Animation and Film Director of Coalter Digital LLC (est. 2007)
Utilizing a unique combination of engineering, visualization, animation, and filmmaking expertise Coalter Digital creates high impact film and animation projects for defense contractors and engineering firms.
Number of years in Brevard County: 12
What inspired you to start your business?
I’ve always wanted to be a filmmaker since I was in high school. After ten years as a mechanical and systems engineer I realized animations of my own designs helped satisfy that itch and also conveyed my design intent in a very effective way. Once I started creating animations for entire programs the response from the Defense customer community was very positive. Once one of my projects got briefed to Congress I realized I was on to something that had great potential and worth.
Where did you look for training or instruction for starting your business?
My actual animation and film skills are all self-taught. I regularly take online courses on film, computer animation and visual effects since CG education is a never-ending process. I started my business off small. I had my business plan in place and was the sole employee the first year. As I expanded I drew knowledge from various resources including other small business owners, colleagues, and online sources.
What has been the greatest challenge?
The greatest challenge has been balancing the running of the business with my family life. My two daughters and wife have always been my number one priority and it was extremely tough at the beginning when work would come in and turning it down just wasn’t an option. I spent a lot of late nights and 100 hour work weeks that first year.
How did you initially capitalize your company?
I originally took out a business loan for $40K to cover start-up expenses such as software, furniture, office space, and computers.
What adjustments have you made due to the recent economic conditions?
Fortunately for us the area of Defense hasn’t been affected nearly as much as other areas. There will always be a need for Defense programs regardless of economic conditions. We’ve also significantly expanded our customer base as more and more people have become exposed to our projects.
How have you gone about identifying prospective customers and making them aware of your business?
The great thing about our products is that they market themselves. Being able to visualize your concept puts you in a better position to communicate and to persuade. The Defense area is a pretty tight knit community since a typical large program will consist of one prime contractor and many subs (sometimes upwards of 20 other companies) on one team. Once other companies see one of our products they’re able to make the connection to how something similar could help promote, describe, and ultimately sell their complex technical concepts. Almost all of our inquiries come from customers that have seen one of our products.
What advice would you give someone thinking of starting a business?
You have to be passionate about what you’re doing. Most underestimate the amount of work required to get a business off the ground. If it’s not ultimately what you love to do you will get burned out fairly quickly. One of the biggest keys to being successful is to become good at something no one else is good at. We offer a very unique combination of engineering experience coupled with film and animation expertise that you can’t find at other firms.
Who are the most significant (must have) strategic partners in starting your business? SCB Marketing has been a supporter of us from day one and helped introduce us to many new clients. Also the Space Coast Economic Development Commission has been a great advocate for us. They’ve helped us win several entrepreneurial awards and have also helped up get published in such statewide magazines as Florida Trend. I was profiled alongside the owner of Electronics Arts in Orlando, a 500+ person company.
What has been the biggest surprise since starting your business?
The biggest surprise has definitely been our initial success. I didn’t anticipate that it would come so early within the first year. It’s allowed us to progress our capabilities and keep pushing the envelope with our products. That’s what gets me excited about coming into work every day.
What keeps you up at night (i.e what’s your greatest concern as it relates to your business)? Luckily, concerns usually don’t keep me up at night. Typically, creative thoughts running through my head about our current project keep me up at night; figuring out better and more advanced ways to do things. I do worry about sudden increases in business and having the ability to react but we’ve established a good base of freelance artists we use on an as-needed basis and that seems to be working out well so far.